Our Torah Portion begins with the promise of the birth of Isaac whose name means “laughter.” Abraham and Sarah show hospitality to three travelers who turn out to be angels in disguise. As the angels are about to depart, they tell Abraham that Sarah will soon bear a son. This is unbelievable news, literally unbelievable, in that Sarah is now 90 years old and Abraham is 99. Sarah, listening from a distance in the privacy of her tent, laughs quietly to herself, saying:
“Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” (Genesis 18:12)
God responds asking Abraham:
“Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too wondrous for God?” (Genesis 18:13-14)
God’s response to Sarah’s laughter raises two interesting and insightful questions:
- Why does God take exception to Sarah’s laughter, particularly when Abraham responds to this same promise with laughter himself, just one chapter earlier in the Torah?
“Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed, as he said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?’” (Genesis 17:17)
God seems fine with Abraham laughing at himself, and yet concerned about Sarah laughing to herself about Abraham.
- Why does God “lie” to Abraham concerning the reason for Sarah’s laughter?
The great Biblical commentator Rashi notices a slight adjustment between the words which Sarah says to herself and the words which God tells Abraham she has said. Sarah laughs at the news that she will bear a son, because her husband Abraham is now so old. God says to Abraham that Sarah laughed because she thought that she herself was too old.
Rashi teaches us that the lesson of this little ripple in the telling of the tale, is a lesson on Sh’lom Bayit, “peace in the home.” God prefers to tell a “white lie” rather than embarrass Abraham or cause strife between Abraham and Sarah. The big lesson of this story is that nothing is too miraculous for God, but the lesson beneath that lesson is that peace between people may at times matters more than the unbending truth of our words.